Winning the Liebster Award… Twice!

I recently won the Liebster Award! From two lovely bloggers: The Girl Abroad and Emily from Bumblefritz. Now, I could explain this award (glorified chain letter, though much appreciated) and how it works or talk a little about what it means to me (it means YAY THANKS!), but I’d rather just answer the questions. That’s what you’re here for, right?

(Oh geez, reading over that again makes me realize that I’m clearly not in the Christmas Liebster Spirit! Probably because I’m hungry at the moment, sorry.)

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1. What made you choose the life of an expat and/or traveler?

Wait a minute, was this a choice? Don’t people just suddenly find themselves traveling/expatriating and have no idea how it happened?

2. What is the one thing that you are seriously horrible at?

Sports. All the sports.

3. What place have you visited that you would never go back to?

My brother lived in Columbus, Mississippi for a little while… wowza.

4. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who was thinking about traveling, what would it be?

Think less, travel more.

5. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who was thinking about expatriating, what would it be?

Think less, expatriate more.

(But if you actually would like some advice, I’d be happy to dole any out personally. Find me on the contact page.)

6. Why did you start blogging?

I wrote this on my about page and I’m really not kidding when I say this. I hated answering the same questions multiple times, so I started a blog so I wouldn’t have to correspond with my parents/relatives as much, saying all of the same things. Clearly patience is not one of my best virtues, haha.

7. What do you miss most from “home”?

Best friends, my giant bed and more than anything else, my puppy, Mary.

8. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Either in graduate school or getting ready for a career in… something. Don’t ask me about that something for several years, please!

9. In your opinion, what country has the best food? Favorite dish?

Now I don’t actually think American-style food is the best, but I’m going to say the USA. (Hear me out!) Simply because it’s incredible that you can access excellent versions of pretty much the entire world’s cuisine in most major cities. And Mexican food is literally everywhere, it makes my day. (Favorite dish? I cannot and will not choose!)

10. Post one of your favorite travel shots.

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Now, I’m going to be a big ol’ party pooper, again. Not that I don’t love other travel blogs, but I don’t follow any that fit the Liebster Award criteria (or any that do have already won it) for followers. So at the moment, I won’t be passing on the award. Of course, if I come across a blog in the next few months that needs to win, I’ll go ahead and revise / share the love.

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What do you think of the Liebster award? Were my answers to the questions kind of terrible? (Sorry. I know. I’ll go eat now.)

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

What is This Place? Notes on a Return Home

Everyone asks about culture shock, about strange foreign customs and scary food. But as strange as living abroad can sometimes be, particularly in Asia, there is one ugly monster that never fails to rear its head and make me scream while I try to run away at full speed. That horrible nightmare is also known as reverse culture shock.

Now, I’m no stranger to culture shock or reverse culture shock. I’ve been around the block, as they say. I’ve lived 5 months in Austria and had to readjust to the big, bad, high-school world in my hometown. I lived another 5 months in Argentina and had to come back to my University and deal with a mate deficit and loads of people who just couldn’t relax, in stark contrast to the Argentine lifestyle I’d learned to love. Arriving in South Korea and trying to figure out how life works wasn’t always a walk in the park. But coming back from 18 months of expat life? Now that’s some heavy hitting culture backlash. I knew what was coming but I definitely couldn’t have been prepared.

And to be honest, I may have needed all 18 months to be prepared for the return. Somewhere between six and sixteen months, a sickening feeling began to emerge every time I imagined a visit home. The stupidity of uneducated Americans, the ignorance about life outside of its borders and the thought of even having to discuss my “adventure abroad” all seemed like incurable diseases I didn’t want to face. But in the final two months I started having intense cravings for American food, missing Pittsburgh sights and attractions and looking forward to happy holiday times. Without these small bits of homesickness to overcome my fear of a return, I would have had quite a tough time getting on that plane headed back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Home sweet home, after getting adjusted.
Home sweet home, after settling in.

But, I did. And I’ve been back. And unsurprisingly, it’s hasn’t been quite as horrible as I originally envisioned. Actually there have been some wonderful parts. And some weird parts. And an incident or two after which I realized that my social skills were a little rusty and maybe those Korean tendencies to be direct and extremely nosy weren’t really appropriate for conversations with USAers. But I’m pretty sure I can declare myself adjusted and look forward to fun times ahead.

Now that this serious talk is over and dealt with, let’s have some giggles at my expense. Here are five things that made me tilt my head and nearly curse with confusion, because I’d forgotten that’s what the USA is like for a hot second.

Cleavage, Everywhere

Korea is not so big on cleavage, and their standards of modesty are pretty much the exact opposite of what the USA calls modest. In the USA, showing your upper body (arms, shoulders, chest area, cleavage, back) are all pretty standard and accepted, provided it’s in moderation. In South Korea, those parts of the body need to be covered and if you want to be a little risqué, then a sleeveless shirt or a little collarbone will do the trick. In the USA, a short skirt screams sexy and if you can almost see someone’s butt, then you’re probably trying to force down super judgmental thoughts about that person’s life choices. In Korea, short shorts, skirts and dresses are the norm and there are plenty of times that I’ve caught a glimpse of someone’s undies.

Anyways, I’m rambling. The point is that I arrived in the USA and immediately thought “Oh my gosh, boobies are everywhere! What is this place?” and was very uncomfortable for a long period of time.

Flushing Toilet Paper

In South Korea, toilet paper goes in the trash can next to you when you’ve finished using it. We can debate the merits of this versus flushing TP all day, but that doesn’t really matter. After 18 months of being in the same toilet-using routine, I was pretty caught off guard during my return to the USA. It wasn’t really glorious, it was just weird and flushing toilet paper just felt… wrong.

People “Dressed Up” in Sweats

I understand that everyone has their bad days, but there has to be an end to this weird fashion trend of wearing sweatshirts, sweatpants and other junk clothing, just to straighten your hair and put it in a messy bun on top of your head. And then put on a face-full of makeup. I guarantee you that person showered, too. It’s just ludicrous. What’s so hard about clothes, again?

Wearing Shoes Indoors

“SHOES ARE DIRTY!” Korea said. And now I’m supposed to walk into my house, still wearing them. Because if I don’t, I’ll end up with a wet sock from some puddle of ice that someone else tracked in, while wearing their shoes inside. Because apparently that’s how things work in this weird country where I was born and raised. Whatever.

Massive Portion Sizes and Nothing Healthy on the Menu (Except Salad)

This one seriously drives me crazy. I cannot order healthy food off of a menu, unless it’s in the salad section, and even then, it’s questionable. Or unless I go to one of the “hipster” health food restaurants, which seems a little counter-intuitive to me. Why would I eat unhealthy food, when the whole point of food is to make our bodies keep working? Why are healthy meals not mainstream? Man, the USA needs to get its shit together so I can eat a sandwich that isn’t ten thousand calories or perfectly healthy but three times the size of what a meal should be. (Please note: the exception to this frustration of mine is Pittsburgh’s iconic Primanti Brothers’, where you arrive expecting to clog your arteries and almost explode post-meal. Then it’s okay.)

My diet at American restaurants: bread, bread, bread and bread.
My diet at American restaurants: bread, bread and bread.

It’s not all weird, head-scratching moments, though. I’ve encountered a few things while being home that I forgot were so damn awesome about the USA. And I rejoice every time I’m able to partake in these luxuries.

The 24 hr Pharmacy

I know that Korea has really cool convenience stores, but RiteAid, CVS and the like are America’s version of the same kind of awesomeness. I love walking through the aisles and staring at garden gnomes, Valentine’s day chocolate boxes galore, twenty-five different kinds of hair brushes and my favorite section, the drink refrigerators with Arizona Green Tea. They’ve even got all the candy you could ever need, ugly Pittsburgh magnets, horrible stationary and cards and the print-it-yourself photo booths. All open 24 hours. It’s glorious and I love it.

Delicious Beer, On Tap

Oh, Korea… if there is anything you cannot do for the life of you, it’s all things made of wheat. Your bread is sugary and lame and your beer tastes watery and sad. In the USA, there is a beautiful beer culture where you go to a bar, order a delicious, flavorful beer that you’ve never tried before and then you enjoy it. Sometimes it’s a locally made craft beer, sometimes it’s a local chain, sometimes it’s a popular beer but only in Michigan. In any case, I am soaking up every moment I can with amber ales, dark lagers, bright hoppy brews and all of the other incredible, tasty and wonderful beers that the USA has to offer.

(Oh, and I can’t WAIT to go to Germany again in April.)

Drip Coffee

I’m a coffee addict, and South Korea tried to placate me with those sugary instant coffee horrors. It didn’t work, Korea, you hear me?! I am enjoying opening a bag full of aromatic beans, grinding them, filling the coffee maker with either six or eight cups (depending on my mood) and enjoying cups of coffee all morning, while I’m still in my pajamas. And visiting the coffee shop or a breakfast restaurant and getting cups after cups of delicious diner coffee, instead of an Americano.

Yeah, I probably couldn’t have worked this out in Korea if I had tried harder, but I didn’t and I really missed it.

Although I did have the best coffee of my life in Korea. An exception.
Although I did have the best coffee of my life in Korea. An exception.

Full-Sized Towels

No one will understand why this is so great until they’ve lived somewhere that forces tiny foot towels upon you for all of your post-shower drying needs. May I also remind my readers that I said “foot towel”, as in a towel that is only sufficient for drying feet? And that my hair needs a foot towel of its own, since it hangs only a few inches above my waist? Full-sized towels are angelic, warm, fluffy awesomeness that blankets your cold, shivering and wet body and then makes life happier and full of rainbows. Also known as a bath towel. Also known as the kind of towel the world needs to start using after baths and showers, everywhere. Cough, cough, Korea. *Points an angry finger across the ocean*

Cheese

Korea, why couldn’t you do cheese correctly? I’m so glad I can eat delicious mozzarella and melted cheese that actually stretches and add cheese to scrambled eggs without ruining them. It’s great. And enjoy sharp cheddar and the cheese that’s both orange and white and fresh cheese from a block instead of in slices.

And there are a few things that I miss, now that I’ve departed kimchi-land (and one of those things is not kimchi). I’ll just list them, as they don’t need much explanation.

  • Pat Bingsu
  • Saunas
  • Rice
  • The Korean Won (and prices in 100 won instead of 1 cent increments)
♫And I----I, will always love youuuuuuu.♫
♫And I—-I, will always love youuuuuuu.♫

Time has flown by this month, but it’s now to move on to warmer pastures, literally, because I’m going to Spain in a few weeks. And then I’ll have another five months of travel and I’ll have to face the reverse culture shock beast all over again in July. But hey, I’ve done it before and there’s not a bit of doubt that I’ll be facing it plenty of times over in the years to come. Because in the end, reverse culture shock is the reason we travel. It causes us to question what it is we once accepted as par to the course and it creates appreciation for small things we never realized we would miss. It’s what we’re scared of and overcome, because we have to. Friends and family and loved ones are waiting on the other side. Your life doesn’t change by going abroad, your life changes when you go abroad and come back. That’s the hard part. That’s the part that makes us who we are.

And I wouldn’t change that monster hiding under my bed for any reason.

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

An Unrelated-to-Travel Video of My Puppy

Let’s be honest, now: this is completely unrelated to travel, being an expat or worldly things. But hey, this is my blog and I’ll do what I want to. Today that happens to be posting a video I made that is 100% just my puppy, Mary. Maybe I’m just procrastinating important things, maybe I just had a lot of time on my hands, being under siege from all this unending snow in Pennsylvania. Perhaps a little of both.

There are a lot of videos on my phone and I decided the best thing to do would be to compile them, put in some background music and poof! A puppy video is born. In reality, it took well over an hour, was annoying and I realized that I’m pretty unskilled when it comes to making videos. Also I apologize for using one of the most overused video songs, ever, in the history of the world. But I gave it my best shot, got some video-making practice and can now save lots of memory on my phone by finally deleting my million videos of Mary! Success.

I hope you like it! Although it is a puppy video, so I’m not sure what kind of soulless human being couldn’t… awkward pause…

What did you think of the video?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

 

Eleven Questions About Myself, Answered

I’ve never done one of these “tag, you’re it” kind of posts, and generally can’t really get behind them. But I’m pretty fond of Colleen from Colleen Brynn Travels and she “tagged” me, so I’m willing to oblige this time. Maybe you’ll glean some interesting information from it, who knows! She asked me to answer the following questions about myself. So I did.

1. What is your most embarrassing travel story?

If I told you, I’d probably have to kill you, muahaha. JOKES. Maybe all ten of my idiot moments in Korea. Maybe the time I fainted on the Buenos Aires subway. I tend to repress those memories, so that’s all I can remember at the moment.

There she is. Parry.
There she is. Parry.

2. If you had unlimited funds, where would you go and what would you do?

Everywhere? What a question. I just read a post about someone visiting their sponsor child, so now I’m all inspired to visit my family’s sponsor child in Colombia. Although honestly, I’m at a point right now where I do have kind of unlimited funds (or just a lot to work with) and so my upcoming trips, especially Eastern Europe, really are where I’m dying to go. What I’m dying to do is mostly volunteer, which is also my current plan, so I think I’m in a pretty good place right now.

As long as there is coffee.
As long as there is coffee.

3. If you had to change career paths right now, what would you do?

You mean actually follow a career path? Hands down, I’d get into computer science and programming. I’m a nerd, what can I say.

4. What is the most memorable meal you’ve eaten on the road?

This is a hard question, I remember pretty much every meal I’ve eaten on the road. A certain slightly stale bread lunch comes to mind though, while I was short on funds in Tilcara, Argentina.

The bread wasn't the only thing that was old.
The bread wasn’t the only thing that was old.

5. While at home?

Well, I’ll never forget that time I gave myself food poisoning, at least…

The dinner of nightmares.
The dinner of nightmares.

6. What is the most romantic thing someone has done for you while traveling?

This one happened while I was expating, not travelling, but there was a Korean guy in my school building that was looking for the restroom while he participated in a Tae Kwon Do tournament next door. He was all dressed in the white uniform and not particularly cute, but he saw me and suddenly became very curious. He started asking me questions with some decent but not perfect English, like “Are you the English teacher?”, “Do you live around here?” and I could tell that he thought I was cute. We said goodbye and before he’d completely walked away, he suddenly turned around and asked me “Oh, do you have a boyfriend?” to which I answered “Yes, I do.” The biggest, goofiest grin spread over his face and he said, “Oh, okay then,” while laughing and then sincerely wished me well before leaving.

Basically, respect, how romantic. Haha, oh I am a strange one.

7. If you could speak any language in the world, what would it be and why?

I wish I could speak Mandarin Chinese! Then I could avoid disgusting local foods, haggle prices and generally just communicate with a solid 14% of the world’s population. Also my job future would be all but guaranteed to be bright.

I started, once!
I started, once.

8. If you could have a conversation with any of your ancestors (you’ve never met), who would it be and what would you talk about?

My grandfather’s mother was an orphan, both of her parents died during the boat journey to the USA. She got her first job taking care of a rich woman’s house (who treated her like low class dirt) and somehow married well and managed to raise three university-educated sons who blossomed, creating even bigger families. I would love to talk to her about, well, everything.

9. If you could be best friends with one celebrity, who would it be and what would your friendship look like?

Susan Boyle? She’s cool. We’d sing karaoke together, I’d obviously be the backup.

10. Skydiving or bungee jumping? Or both?

Skydiving because I’d actually look forward to it, bungee jumping because I’m terrified poopless just at the thought.

11. If you were to choose one place to live for the rest of your life, where would that be and why?

I’m going to cheat: on a boat that travels all around the world. 🙂

I’m going to be one of those fun-suckers now, and not pass the baton because I’m a horrible person. Though, if you’d like me to come up with eleven questions for you because you want to take the baton, then just write a comment and I’d be happy to oblige.

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You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

13 Defining Moments of 2013

I don’t usually pay too much homage to the change of the year. After all, it is just a number and on some level, the difference between 2013 and 2014 is just an arbitrary 24 hour period that happens to be a special one. Suddenly midnight strikes and everything has changed… not. But as I read through other blogs and their recounting of adventures, it got me thinking about what’s happened to me in 2013 and I started feeling a little nostalgic. I changed my mind; I’ll write about it after all, I’ll commemorate it. Because when I think about it, 2013 has been quite a year. Besides, who can resist the chance to link to at least ten previous posts and substantially increase blog traffic? Definitely not me! (Was that a trade secret? Oops.)

So I sat down and tried my darnedest to write about it. It didn’t go well, I slept on it and my dreams offered nothing. Rude, subconscious. Then someone used the title I was contemplating using, “A Year of Firsts” and wrote a pretty good post to rub it in. Later I searched “2013: A Year of Firsts” on the internet and realized there were about a billion posts with that same title, all over the internet anyways. And now as I sit here and think about it, I’m realizing that it should be my goal to make every year of my life a “year of firsts”. I should always be challenging myself. When I don’t think of the previous year as a year of firsts, then maybe that means I’m actually doing something wrong and I need to do some changes.

So back to the subject, I’ve settled instead on listing 13 things that happened in 2013, a bullet-listed summary of sorts, firsts and otherwise.

1

2013 will be the first full calendar year that I will have the pride (yes, I’m thrilled about this!) of saying I was 100% financially independent. I earned my own salary, paid my own bills, did my own grocery shopping, had to put up the money for those big purchases that my parents love to cover, like winter jackets and running shoes. Although my parents have always been beyond supportive and never put any stipulations on their handouts, it still felt really freeing to be on my own, financially. I guess you can say I’m a big girl now! (Tongue in cheek, I’m five foot three and will never be a big girl, woe is me.)

2

I bought my first car and it was lime green, fulfilling a childhood dream. Driving around my rural community completely changed my mindset; suddenly I wasn’t stuck in the countryside, I was experiencing rural Korea. Later I also sold my car and mourned the inevitable loss of Princess Fiona and her beautiful maroon pleather interior. Maryanne, treat her right, I’m entrusting you with a vehicle of great importance and prestige.

3

Double first, I still have never had an official cavity but this past year I nurtured and grew two troubled, slightly decaying spots on my back molars! I guess 2014 will be the year of more vigorous dental hygiene.

4

This year, I was also completely stationary. I haven’t lived in the same apartment for so long in almost four or five years, so that’s a little bit of a big deal, eh? College had me bouncing between universities, then dorms, sometimes countries and houses but for the first time since high school, I lived in the same place for 18 months straight. (No wonder I was so sick of that apartment by the time I left!)

Home sweet home.

5

I transferred my blog from Tumblr to WordPress this past May and finally joined the official blogging community. It’s been an incredible experience, I’ve made a lot of Internet friends and adore the friendships that have blossomed around my posts and in the comment sections. So now that I’m official… where’s the T-shirt?!

6

Sad but true, this was the year I accepted the loss of a lot of really close friends and also acknowledged that no one I’d met since then would be able to fill that void. Yes, I have a great boyfriend, but this is friend talk. And coming to the end of 2013, I’m realizing that I really don’t have many. But the ones I do have are precious.

7

This year, I made a huge transition, too. There was another frontier that I’d never crossed, and as soon as I felt a Kindle in my hands, I knew that a vast and enriching world had just opened up and I’d never be the same. I’ve always been a bookworm but I’d had to put that passion on the backburner when I traveled abroad previously, not wanting to splurge on expensive English books all the time and break my wallet. Getting my Kindle has reignited my love for literature and I’m now reading more than ever, more intentionally than ever and seriously feeling so… myself. That’s a good feeling to have.

I wish I could own these, but having them in E-book form is the second best option.
I couldn’t have read these books if it weren’t for eBooks.

8

This is a travel blog, let’s talk travel: I stepped foot in Istanbul, Turkey and Cyprus for the first time in my life. This trip was also with my mom, so there’s another first. (Not vacationing with my mom, vacationing with my mom abroad!) We spent a total of 10 days between the two and had a blast. And another first, I’d impulsively selected a city on the map and decided to vacation there, which I’d never done before. As my cousin might say, life achievement: unlocked.

9

One more first when it comes to travel, it was also the first time I really explored Germany. Now when I say that I studied German in college and the next question inevitably is “So have you been to Germany?” then I can concisely say “Yes!” instead of hanging my head in shame and then later explaining the difference between Austria and Australia. (I learned my German in Austria.) Now that some family news has come in, my travel plans for 2014 will give me even more chances to enjoy Germany and its delicious gassy water.

"Hey guys, I'm going to Germany tomorrow, so can someone take care of Mary for the next two weeks?"

10

Two thousand and thirteen will always be the year that my Christmas day was 38 hours long, thanks to cross continental travel and International Date Line magic. It will also be the year that I started Christmas morning hiking a mountain in Seoul and ended it laughing with cousins and gifts, next to a decked out Christmas tree in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

11

This past year, I completely paid off my government student loans and am ready to pay of the rest of my private student loans, which will make me completely free of all debt! I know that a lot of students carry larger loans than me and sometimes I feel guilty, but I also know that I worked my butt off to get to Korea, do well in my job, and get this dollar sign off of my back. And that feels really good.

12

I had a really serious realization this year, too: I hate cleaning. I am not domestic. I despise washing dishes. And when left to my own devices, I am disgusting! It sucks to come face to face with your own weaknesses, but I did this year and I’ll have to face those demons again, someday, once I’m ready to settle somewhere for another year or more.

13

The biggest, bestest, craziest and most life-changing part of this past year was hands down the adoption of my rescue puppy, Mary. I didn’t anticipate becoming a dog mommy at any point and I had to work really hard, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, to take care of her and myself. But I’m sitting here on my parents’ couch in the USA, covered in a blanket, and Mary is now eleven months old and fast asleep, cuddled next to me with her paw over her eyes to block out the light, being breathtakingly adorable. This month may be a bit of a trial for me (isn’t living in your parent’s home always?), but so far Mary has been my comedic distraction, stress release and the best bundle of crazy and cute that has ever existed, buffering me even from culture shock. I think that maybe ten years from now, when I look back at 2013, it’ll be defined as the year Mary arrived; that’s how much she means to me now.

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Mushy stuff over, it’s number time!

Planes Taken: 6 + 6 + 2 + 2 = 16 (Oh dear…)
Distance Traveled: 4968.5 + 4968.5 + 5090.8 + 5090.8 + 6846.4 = 26,965 miles
Time Spent on Planes: I refuse to do that math, for my own sanity.
Foreign Countries Visited via Airport: United Arab Emirates, China, Netherlands
Foreign Countries Actually Visited: Turkey, Cyprus, Germany, South Korea
Beds Slept In: 10
Apartments I Called My Own: 1
Hours of Christmas: 38
Miles Run With Mary: Countless
Miles Walked With Mary: Countless
Energy Mary Still Has: Countless
Dogs My Father Likes: 1

The Five Most Popular Posts of 2013

  1. 7 Ways South Korea Has Changed Me
  2. White & Pretty in South Korea
  3. How To Stay Warm in Winter Like a Korean
  4. 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best
  5. Meet Mary: Rescuing a Puppy in Korea

Resolutions for 2014

Brush my teeth more often. (See defining moment #3)

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What defining moments did you have in 2013? Are you ready for the new year?

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Photoessay: Holidays in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Did you know? I’m from Pittsburgh. You probably already know that, maybe thanks to me gushing about the city in this post. On Christmas day I arrived home with two big suitcases, a ten month old puppy and a visitor from Korea, who may or may not be a long-term boyfriend that I’ve been keeping secret because that’s my personal life. The week or so following Christmas was absolutely packed with events: multiple days of “Christmas”, a birthday and birthday party, dinners and cousins and shopping trips, a visit to the famous Fallingwater house, what felt like no sleep and not enough coffee to combat my exhaustion. New Years Eve, New Years Day, an airport goodbye, meeting my little brother’s boyfriend (AHHH he’s not ten anymore!), my cousin’s birthday, and now mass amounts of snow have followed the holiday insanity, keeping up the insanity. It never ends. But I took a lot of pictures!

So for now, while I take a breather and set up my schedule this January in preparation for European adventures, I’ll share with you some photographs I’ve taken these past days. I’ll preface it with just one more comment: it’s been everything you’d imagine winter is and then some. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and settle in, now.

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Christmas morning breakfast, the day after Christmas. I had to rectify my gluten intake after so long in Korea, primarily through the consumption of too many Christmas eggs.
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Christmas cookies also required.
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Mary looking adorable, as usual.
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A pancake trying to look as adorable as Mary, and it’s kind of working.
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My boyfriend did the first puzzle of his life and is now completely addicted.
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Downtown Pittsburgh looking gorgeous. In the winter, PPG Plaza turns into an ice skating rink with this Christmas tree as the centerpiece.
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I don’t know why I never noticed the beautiful, old-timey architecture directly next to more modern gems until I already had moved away from Pittsburgh.
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Christmas without puppies? Now that’s just wrong.
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A trip to Phipps Conservatory was a great way to spend an evening. The building is entirely LEED approved (also known as a “green” building) and has cool exhibits year-round. If you don’t like plants, you’ll still like the glass sculptures hidden around all of the gardens (though they’re a seasonal installment) and maybe also the miniature volcano that you can make erupt.
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Acrobats. Failed acrobats.
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My birthday was lovely and filled with friends and delicious cake!
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Then the snowstorms arrived in full force.
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A trip to Fallingwater to see the architectural genius that is this house. The freezing temperatures made me want to cuddle up next to the fireplace in there and never, ever come out.
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Hi Mary, you’re still adorable and kind of weird!
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I became a little enchanted with winter photography this past week or so…
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New Years Eve dinner at a fancy restaurant was a nice treat. Thanks Mom and Dad! (Too bad I was so cranky and exhausted by this evening that I cried because I didn’t want to wear high heels and the patriarchy. LOL.)
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We celebrated my one-week-delayed kind-of-my-twin cousin’s birthday, too.
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Need another reason to visit Pittsburgh? Hofbrauhaus.
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The snow is so gorgeous when you’re bundled up and warm.

The whirlwind is finally coming to a pause, so expect a few more posts coming up soon and don’t forget to enter into the giveaway, which ends on Wednesday night EST. Unless you don’t like free stuff, in which case, WHO ARE YOU?! I hope everyone has had a good first week of January! Don’t break your resolutions, just yet! 🙂

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Have you had a busy couple of weeks, too, or were your holidays more relaxing than mine? What do you think of all that snow?

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Finally Nailed Down, Travel Plans for 2014

Planning next year has been a long and drawn out affair. I’ve cycled through probably a hundred different ideas. I’ve researched and contacted people in areas where I wanted to go, asked about opportunities galore and looked up flight costs and cost-per-day averages and border crossings and visa restrictions in what feels like half the world. And then I’d fink out on my plans or stumble onto something else amazing, and change my mind. And then I did it all over again.

It’s now less than a week until Christmas and less than two weeks away from the new year, but finally, FINALLY, I’ve figured it out. And booked the flight. And I feel so relieved and happy and excited, because this time, my plans fit like a glove and I don’t have a gut feeling holding me back on a single thing.

Before I reveal anything, let’s take a moment to mourn my discarded travel plans that weren’t able to come to life, at least not yet.

RIP

Backpack & Volunteer Around Mexico

This was plan numero uno, and after plenty of research, I came up with very little to actually do in Mexico. Well, there was one place on the West coast where I could work at an orphanage, and there were about a million opportunities in the city of Oaxaca, but the in-between was dark and unpromising, volunteer-project-wise. I’m sure more opportunities would have opened up once I got on the ground, but then idea numero dos popped up.

Backpack & Volunteer From Costa Rica to Mexico

I was alerted that an old family friend worked for an NGO in Nicaragua. Perfect, an in with a reputable place to volunteer. I also thought about the weather and that it would be a good idea to follow the warmth, so to say, and start South, instead, ending in Mexico during the summer months. My biggest dilemma in planning this was just how much I wanted to see in merely 8 weeks. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize AND Mexico? That’s only one week, per country. Impossible. And for some reason, I just had a weird feeling that kept stopping me from booking my flights.

Sad but true: no Costa Rican monkeys for me, this February.
Sad but true: no Costa Rican monkeys for me, this February.

Volunteer in Tanzania

Then I found a really cool volunteer project that was both local, cheap-ish and had a wide range of really inspiring projects I could work in. This plan died when I looked up how much all the vaccinations and visa costs were, though. I’d still love to volunteer and spend some time in Africa, but I need more than a month to get my ducks in a row, first. This is on my radar for the distant future. I’m 100% sure that at some point, Sally in Africa will happen.

Backpack The Balkans

I’ve always wanted to head through Eastern Europe, and with my parents relocating to an area near Berlin, the timing seemed perfect. The only thing about that same timing, though, is that I only have 10-11 weeks to do this and almost twice as many countries I want to visit. And if you know me, then you know that I can’t stand rushing from one place to the next. But deadlines are deadlines, and I need to be in Germany in April and the USA in July for some non-negotiable events; that’s just how the cookie/my Balkan-backpacking plans crumble into little tiny dead pieces.

So… what have I decided?

Did you catch what I just mentioned about Germany in April? (Now you did!) My parents are relocating to Germany for my dad’s work. So to figure out my plans once and for all, I went back to basics. I want to practice my Spanish. I don’t want to spend a million dollars on flights; I want to be closer to where I need to be for those big fixed events. Which led me to the conclusion that at the beginning of February, I should get on a plane headed for:

Just gonna torture you with this unrelated photograph. (Or is it?!)
Just gonna torture you with this unrelated photograph. (Or is it?!)

Germany!

Only long enough to settle my junk into my dad’s nice new place (he’ll arrive before me, my mom will arrive later), because booking round trip tickets is a lot less of a headache than two one-way. As soon as any jet lag has passed and I’ve had a dark beer and some bretzel, then I’ll be taking a train to:

Spain!

I’m sure you figured that out, right? Where else in Europe can I practice my Spanish? I have about two months before my mom arrives in Germany and I want to be there to help her settle in. So I’ll be… around Spain. I haven’t made those plans very well yet. But I’d like to spend the majority of my time outside of the city, as living in rural Korea has turned me into a little bit of a country girl. On my way back to Germany at the end of my two months, I want to make a stop in:

[February 2014 edit: These plans have already changed again! I’ll be spending only one month in Spain and then heading outside of the Schengen Visa Zone to Ireland and the UK for another month.]

Paris, France!

How could I not? If I had another two months on my Schengen visa then I’d spend it exploring France, as well. Unfortunately I have to choose, so I’ll just spend a few days in the big city, take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and get even fatter than I already will be from eating tapas all day. Solid plan, I know.

Back in Germany…

I get to watch the shock on my mother’s face as she discovers all of these things about Germans are actually true. And pressure her into eating deli meat before 10am. I’ll probably just be doing a lot of boring things like visiting the post office and mapping the way to the local train station, but because it’ll be with my mom, in Germany, it’ll be kind of fun. I’ll also get a taste rural German life, because my parents will be living out in the countryside, thanks to my dad’s work.

Oh, and I’ll say hi to some friends along the way (Vienna, anyone?), but before long I need to head out to my next destination:

Parry wants to know... is this suspense killing you?
Parry wants to know… is this suspense killing you?

Somewhere in Eastern Europe

So vague, I know. Basically I want to be outside of the Schengen zone and not moving around too much, but still in a good place to take some two- or three-day trips. Bosnia, Serbia or Romania are all good contenders at the moment. We shall see! My trip will come to a close at the end of June, I’ll fly back to the USA for a wedding the second week of July, and from there, it looks like a return to Korea is in my future. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, planning until July is good enough for me!)

Wait, so… what will I be doing exactly?

Other than eating everything I can stuff in my face? Brushing up on that Spanish that I’ve let deteriorate a little too much. I’d also like to volunteer and maybe also work for accommodation, so I won’t say a WWOOF is out of the question. I would love to make some new friends, using Couchsurfing. And perhaps even run into an old friend or two, reunion-style. Whatever I end up doing, I don’t want to be living with my face in a Lonely Planet book. Sightseeing is great, visiting new cities is great, but I’m interested in a more culturally involved experience. Where will that take me? Well, who knows.

If I could know, maybe I wouldn’t want to find out. It’s the journey, right?

And perhaps part of the journey will involve wild goats. That would be nice.
And perhaps part of the journey will involve wild goats. That would be nice.

How You Can Help

Seeing as I haven’t planned out my time in Spain or Eastern Europe yet, any knowledgeable input would be really appreciated. I can use all the info you can throw at me!

What do you suggest I see while I’m in Spain? Do you know of any volunteering opportunities that I could be a part of?

What’s a good base in Eastern Europe that you would recommend? What was your favorite country, there? How about volunteer projects in the area?

Trip insurance suggestions?

If you can’t tell, folks, I’m excited! And so glad that this plan is complete and set in plane-ticket stone; it’s a huge weight off my shoulders to have this settled so I can sit back and relax this holiday season.

So with that, I wish you guys a wonderful end of the year full of cookies, happy memories, things with bright lights all over them and as many laughs as your diaphragm can stand. I know I’ll be doing the same.

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The 10 Stupidest Things I Did While Living in Korea

When someone mentions they are an expat or living abroad, you might feel like they’re being a little pretentious. Some blogs (cough cough Thought Catalog) like to romanticize the experience, talk about why home will never be the same and generally just drone on and on about what an original experience everything is when you’re abroad.

Yeah, I’m sorry, but I need to tell you the truth. Being an expat is just a series of stupid moments and mistakes that never end. Yes, it’s like no other experience, yes, you’re better for it, yes, you’re automatically a little misunderstood when you go home because no one was there with you. But let’s cut the shit: being an expat isn’t glorious. You go somewhere, act like an idiot and learn enough about patience to accept that sometimes you’re stupid. And it’s okay.

Being an expat is asking yourself this question: how many times in one day can I embarrass myself before I just die?

As I’ve learned from living in South Korea, the answer is, well, a lot. In fact, after all of these stupid moments, I’m still living! I think that’s the big lesson here when you move abroad; it doesn’t even matter. Life goes on. Embarrassment isn’t actually a cause of death and most of the time, except in extraordinary circumstances, you will get out of stupidity alive.

What did I do that was stupid? Oh this will be fun. Take a seat, I’m an idiot, so prop your feet up and settle in for some belly laughter.

I said the word “bitch” to my bosses.

In my defense, they knew I meant the word “year” and just kind of blinked and let me finish talking. But the fact that the word for “bitch” and “year” are the same, but the meaning changes depending on sentence context is just lunacy. Someone change the Korean language.

I gave myself food poisoning.

I was too lazy to go to the grocery store, so I walked half the distance to the convenience store and bought what turned out the be the most disgusting meal I’ve ever had the displeasure of putting in my mouth. I couldn’t eat solids for a week after that and I’ll spare you the details of my bowel movements. See the full story here, if you actually want more information than that, ew.

NEVER AGAIN.
NAVER AGAIN.
NAVER AGAIN.

I withdrew $200 from the ATM when I only wanted $20.

In Korea, they count their money in 10,000s, because 1,000 won = ~$1 and it would be difficult to keep track of, otherwise. They even have a special word that means 10,000, “man”. So while I typed in 20 into the screen, which I assumed would mean 20,000, what I was actually typing was 20 ten-thousands. Or 200,000 won. I immediately ran into the bank, shame-faced, with my hands overflowing with bills and somehow communicated to the banker that all this money I’d just withdrawn should go back into my bank account. Never made that mistake again.

I walked into places with my shoes on, multiple times.

In South Korea, shoes do not come inside, only socks or slippers are allowed. I forgot this a couple times, at first, but within five steps there were screams and arm grabs and generally, just a tragic scene of horrified Korean faces around me. This happens to me even now, because some places are a little unclear about what is a “socks only” area. Just two weeks ago, on a ferry boat, I got the death state when I unknowingly stepped one foot into the shoe-free zone.

I agreed to adopt someone’s dog and then gave it back, all before 8am.

I can’t explain this story in only a few sentences, so just head over to the post I wrote about it to see the full story. *face palm*

There she is. Parry.
My short term adopted dog that shit on my floor as a welcome gift.
My short term adopted dog that shit on my floor as a welcome gift.

I fell on my ass in public.

Sidewalks during the wintertime in South Korea should be renamed “ice walks”. Need I explain more? People laughed. My butt was sore.

I wore Hanbok to work.

This wasn’t really my own stupidity, but simply one of the most embarrassing moments of my teaching career. My boss told me we were going to the city right that moment, took me to a Hanbok shop (traditional Korean costume), made me choose my favorite and then wear it for the rest of the morning. To work. And show the students during their English class. And show my bosses. And he stopped at the local gas station on the way back so my neighbors could see me, too. (The picture can be found, here.)

I asked where to find the salt in the grocery store.

Who can’t find salt? This girl. It was in clear view, but apparently my eyes just weren’t working that day. I also remember using Google images to show a shop owner a picture of an onion, so she could help me locate them.

Luckily, the tuna wasn't as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.

I ordered food that I couldn’t stand to eat.

Never, ever point to something random on a menu and order it. What comes out might be cold noodles drenched in gochujang, red pepper sauce, and literally nothing else. Within three bites, my gag reflex started up and the cause was lost. Consulting my phone for pictures of what the menu said, I successfully ordered hot food for round two. The giant plate of disgusting noodles sat wayside for the rest of the meal. Yuck.

I went on dates I didn’t know were dates.

Actually, I’m not even sure that they were dates, to this day. I’m still confused about some. But there were several times I went to a dinner or two with my “guy friend” and later found out that his intentions were more romantic than platonic. I usually found this out when he had some alcohol in his system and felt he should confess his love. Even though we might have had frank conversations about how we were just friends. Anyways, I don’t have any “guy friends” that are Korean, anymore. That didn’t work out very well.

G-Dragon_2012_4
My accidental dates would have been much better if they were with G-Dragon.
My accidental dates would have been much better if they were with G-Dragon.

Those are just ten instances that I remember, but there are probably a few repressed memories hiding in the dark corners of my brain. Even after all of this, though, my self confidence is still intact and I still wake up breathing, every single day. I also still do stupid things. That never ended, unfortunately.

So next time your friend comes back from Paris and starts to drone on about the croissants, stop them. Say, “Tell me about the stupidest thing you did while you were in France.” You’ll be able to laugh instead of rolling your eyes, something both of you will appreciate, and no one will be under the illusion that expat-ing is glorious in any way, shape or form.

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What are the stupidest things you’ve ever done while living abroad? Don’t you wish you were an expat, now? Do you agree that being an expat is more misadventure than adventure?

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NaBloPoMo: Completing the Challenge

A totally unrelated photograph from Lübeck, Germany.
A totally unrelated photograph from Lübeck, Germany.

November, you kicked my butt into gear and then quickly disappeared. When I set out to do the NaBloPoMo or National Blog Posting Month challenge, I’ll admit that I was a bit hesitant. I don’t commit without serious thought, and worse than anything is committing and falling short. My worst nightmare was to set a challenge for myself and then fail, in the public eye. I also worried about bombarding my readers with too much content, losing subscribers and the negative effect NaBloPoMo could have on this blog. So I almost didn’t sign up, I almost signed up with an obscure personal blog that I don’t even use, I almost clicked out of the window to “sleep on the decision”, also known as forgetting about it.

But I didn’t. I said to myself: “Sally, don’t be a butthead.” (Yes, really.) I realized that if it would be over-blogging and bombardment of content for the smaller amount of readers I have now, it would be the same amount of over-blogging next year, just for more readers. And it was something I wanted to undertake, I wanted to complete the challenge, but I was just nervous. I didn’t think very much about all of the positive things it could do for my blog, though I knew, in theory, that it would make me better and stretch my limits.

So I simply took the plunge, bring what it may. Which turned out to be a whole lot of positives.

It made me think hard, and then force myself to produce.

Whereas earlier I was blogging more or less on inspiration and ideas, this month I blogged on demand. I learn a little about harnessing ideas, creating brainstorm lists and coming back to them later, when it was writing time. I learned about sparking inspiration by looking through old photos or just putting pen to paper and seeing what happened.

It forced me to revisit topics I’d left behind and undone.

I went back to Turkey and Cyprus, putting together photos and information about my trips. Without NaBloPoMo, I may have never gotten around to it. The “(Delicious) Things I Consumed In…” posts will now be a series for small trips I take, thanks to this.

This was also a downside of NaBloPoMo, as I remembered that I haven't eaten Baklava in about a year.
This was also a downside of NaBloPoMo, as I remembered that I haven’t eaten Baklava in about a year. Tears.

It forced me to branch out into new areas.

New topics this month include my hometown, Pittsburgh, my school lunches, getting into pop culture like K-Pop and writing the first post about Argentina since I’ve stopped writing on Tumblr. My topics were all over the place, but in a good way. Creativity upgrade complete.

It put my brain into blog-mode.

Wherever I was, I considered if there was something about this experience I wanted to put in blog form. If so, then I made sure to take the necessary pictures and write down any important information.

It put me on a schedule.

I had to find an everyday rhythm and with that, I was able to plan ahead. I made it my goal to write my post every weekday before lunchtime, and on Fridays I would think about my weekend plans and when I would sit down to write for the day.

Practice, practice, practice makes better.

I had to change that cliched phrase a bit, since writing is one of those things that will never be perfect. But the practice has helped me write not just better sentences, but work out the formatting and overall layout of my blog posts to be more readable and fun. I feel like I’ve improved a lot, even in a short amount of time.

It drove traffic like crazy.

I know that more content means more people looking at what you’ve written, but I expected that to be somewhat off-set by people overwhelmed with all of the new writing and falling away until it was over. In reality, people viewing the site increased by 150% this month! The bunches of content didn’t overwhelm my readers as much as I thought. That’s a relief.

If I could celebrate with this piece of cake from Argentina right now, I would.
If I could celebrate with this piece of cake from Argentina right now, I would. But I’ll settle for a nap.

There are other small things NaBloPoMo has done for me, like sparking some beneficial research and introducing me to the challenges of blogging from my iPhone, but the above are the big ones. I’m so glad I decided to take on this challenge, because despite all of my hesitations, it’s proven to be a really wonderful tool for making myself and my blog better.

I also now dub December my NaBloProMo, or National Blog Promoting Month, in which I do my best to market all the content I’ve already written to a bigger audience and try to get it seen. Yes, new blog posts will also be happening, but oh dear, I really need to take a rest. That was hard. But I did it.

See all of the NaBloPoMo posts here:

1// NaBloPoMo, Yo
2// Weird Noms: Salt & Seaweed Flavored Pringles
3// An Honest Review of 16 Months Studying Korean
4// Working in a Small, Private Middle School in Rural South Korea
5// The Characters of Sambong
6// You Know You’ve Been in Korea Too Long When…
7// iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Istanbul

8// How To Stay Warm In Winter Like a Korean
9// Foreign Movie Pick: “Friend” (2001)
10// Mini iPhone Photoessay: A Week of School Lunches
11// Pepero Day in Korea
12// Typhoon Haiyan, Human Suffering and Responsibility
13// iPhone Photoessay: St. Hilarian Castle in Cyprus
14// Featured Photograph: Red, Green, Yellow, Orange
15// Your Crash Course in K-Pop
16// The Slow Decline of Days
17// Random Snippets of Life in South Korea
18// Language Misadventures: How I Adopted and Unadopted a Dog Before 8am
19// iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Argentina
20// Photoessay: Bikes of Germany
21// Photoessay: Stunning Sunsets in Rural Korea
22// 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best
23// The Superpower You Can Cultivate: Foreign Language
24// My Top 5 Wanderlist
25// 11 Christmas Gifts for Travelers, Vagabonds and Wanderers
26// iPhone Photoessay: Ruins of Salamis in Cyprus
27// Sacrifices of Travel: Thanksgiving Away From Home
28// Featured Photograph: White on Water
29// A Look Ahead: The Last Month in Korea
30// This wrap up post, you’ve just read it!

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Have you noticed an improvement in my writing since I started? Did NaBloPoMo overwhelm you with content? What did you think about the challenge?

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

A Look Ahead: The Last Month in Korea

book coffee happiness

It’s the end of November and it has been for the past week, but this November has absolutely flown by. The everyday blogging, the everyday work, the weekend commitments and events, book-binging and the daily routine of having a dog have all contributed to the light speed with which the month disappeared. More and more, I’m looking ahead.

This December isn’t just the end of the year, it’s also the end of my time as a middle school ESL teacher in Korea. I’m making that very specific on purpose; I will very likely be returning to Korea and ESL is a pretty marketable skill, but I can’t say I want to do it in this context again. It’s just not my cup of tea, but I’m grateful for the experience and wouldn’t trade it for much. (Maybe mashed potatoes, though…)

Let’s take a look at what’s coming up this next month:

A trip to Jeju Island. Technically I leave tonight, November, but I come back on Sunday, the first day of December. I’ll be trying to see as much as possible, eating as much as possible, and generally just going against my usual travel philosophy of spending all of my time at a coffee shop watching people.

– My November Reading Roundup! Look for that within a few days.

Selling my precious, bright green car with a maroon pleather interior. I’m going to be so sad to see it go. Princess Fiona has treated me quite well, this past year.

– Running a benefit pancake brunch for friends in town to try to raise some cash for Typhoon Haiyan victims. Pancakes will be involved, so that makes up for the stress of cooking things that people need to eat.

– Ridding my apartment of extra things. I’ve got clothes, books, general things and I live outside of town, so a “garage sale”/come-to-my-house-take-my-things-for-free situation won’t be possible. I have a feeling this may be my biggest stresser.

– Other general preparation, like finding and buying Mary a dog crate for the flight over (suggestions? please tell me!), those last dinners and one-on-ones with friends, shipping things home for which there is no room in my suitcase, making sure to eat everything delicious ever, one last time. (If only I could eat Bingsu again!)

– Eating three meals of macaroni and cheese, because my mom sent me some Easy Mac from the USA. I am actually quite excited about this, it may be one of those (three of those) bright spots in the midst of a hectic and stressful month.

– Finishing all of my Christmas shopping; buying online and making sure it’s delivered on time or grabbing any last-minute souvenirs from Seoul for family members.

– A goodbye party which will be super sad and hopefully also involve cake, because cake is delicious.

– A 36 hour Christmas in Korea and Pittsburgh (due to a Christmas flight and the time difference), my birthday in Pittsburgh, and the beginning of a very unplanned and crazy year to come.

Well, December, you’re pretty much already here, so come at me! Bring it on!

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Do you have suggestions for keeping stress levels down this month? How about for a good airplane dog carrier? What does your December look like?

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